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Test Drive: 2017 Kia Niro

Test Drive: 2017 Kia Niro

By Christian Wardlaw, February 06, 2017

Introduction
There’s a new high-mileage hybrid in town, and it’s called the 2017 Kia Niro. Engineered from the start to be a hybrid, the new Niro takes aim at the Ford C-Max and Toyota Prius with genuinely attractive styling, 5-door hatchback utility, and enjoyable driving dynamics. Furthermore, through purposeful design, Kia makes the car refreshingly simple to use and easy to live with.

2017 Kia Niro front quarter left photoOn sale now, the 2017 Niro is available in FE, LX, EX, Touring Launch Edition, and Touring trim levels. Prices start at $23,785 and rise to as much as $33,545 when every option and accessory is added to the car.



Styling and Design
Kia contends that lots of people purchase hybrid vehicles in spite of their unusual styling. The Niro is a hybrid that people might purchase because of its styling.

Like other Kia models, the Niro is attractive and upscale in appearance. Especially in Touring trim, the car looks more expensive than it is. It also looks like a crossover, though. Because it lacks an optional all-wheel-drive system, it’s really just a car wearing an SUV costume.

The textured grille, gray plastic lower body cladding, large 18-in. aluminum wheels, and simulated rear skid plate convey a rugged look, but while a Niro provides more ground clearance than its primary competitors it still isn’t suitable for off-roading, let alone a snowstorm that dumps more than 6 inches of the white stuff.

Still, Kia’s insistence that the Niro is a crossover allows this car to have dark tinted privacy glass beyond the front doors, which is nice. Not even a Volkswagen Golf Alltrack offers that.

Familiar Kia interior design themes create a clean, European cabin aesthetic. The Niro sits tall, which provides higher seating hip points, which make it easier to get into and out of the car. Once seated, the driver and front passenger enjoy an expansive view out, one assisted by seat adjusters for both occupants.

As long as the folks up front are willing to move forward a bit, 4 full-sized adults fit inside of the Niro with no problem. The rear-seat cushion could be taller and plumper for better support, but then it wouldn’t create a flat cargo load floor when folded down.

Maximum cargo capacity measures 54.5 cu. ft., which is more than the Ford C-Max but less than the Toyota Prius. When more than 2 people are aboard the Niro, the trunk holds 19.4 cu. ft. of cargo, which is less than both the C-Max and the Prius.

Features and Controls
Nowadays, lots of cars appear to be different for the sake of being different. That’s not true of the Kia Niro, especially inside, where an architectural design theme produces simple, logical instrumentation and controls.

Drivers can reference the gauges with no more than a glance, quickly find and use the majority of controls, and don’t need to consult or use the infotainment screen to modify temperature, activate the available seat heating and ventilation system, adjust stereo volume, or tune to a different station. Even the gear selector—a solidly robust piece of equipment—looks and works like every transmission you’ve ever known.

2017 Kia Niro Launch Edition interior photoIn addition to seat heating and ventilation, the Niro is available with a heated steering wheel and heated outside mirrors. Additional upgrades include leather seats, power sunroof, and a premium Harman Kardon stereo system with Clari-Fi music-restoration technology. Kia also offers a number of infotainment and driving-assistance technologies for the new Niro.

Safety and Technology
Every Kia Niro is equipped with a UVO infotainment system and free eServices technology that provides 14 different functions at no cost as long as a smartphone is connected to the system. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are also standard, along with satellite radio. In most versions of the car, the touch-screen display measures 7 inches, while the Touring version gets an 8-in. screen and a navigation system.

To access the Niro’s driver-assistance and collision-avoidance systems, you’ll need to upgrade from the most efficient version of the car, the FE. The LX, EX, and Touring trim levels include as standard or offer as an option the following technologies: adaptive cruise control, forward-collision warning, automatic emergency braking, and a lane-departure warning system. Oddly, none of these features is available on the handsome Touring Launch Edition, which has spiffy dark gray wheels.

A blind-spot detection system with lane-change assist is standard on the EX, Touring Launch Edition, and Touring versions, along with a rear cross-traffic alert system. The previously mentioned UVO eServices package includes automatic collision notification as well as features that can promote safe driving by teenagers, such as a speed alert, curfew alert, and a boundary alert. Plus, you can find out where the Niro is parked at any given time.

Driving Impressions
Providing 139 horsepower and 195 lb.-ft. of torque, the Niro’s gas-electric hybrid drivetrain is EPA-rated to get up to 50 mpg in combined driving. That’s pretty good for a high-riding vehicle with a 0.29 coefficient of drag.

Kia combines an Atkinson-cycle 1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine with an electric motor, a Lithium-polymer battery mounted beneath the rear seat, and a 6-speed dual-clutch automated manual transmission with a Sport driving mode. With a curb weight that starts just over 3,100 lbs., the combined power output is strong enough to make the Niro feel lively, especially at lower speeds in urban driving situations. Choosing a DCT over a continuously variable transmission (CVT) pleases the driver because the Niro drives and sounds more like a traditional car.

Get out onto a country road, move the gear selector left into Sport mode, and this Kia eagerly tackles the twists and turns. The company worked with its tire supplier, Michelin, to create rubber specific to this car that would best balance handling with low rolling resistance. The result is an admirable compromise.

2017 Kia Niro rear quarter left photoMore than half of the Niro’s architecture is high-strength steel, and aluminum is used for suspension components and the brake calipers in order to reduce unsprung weight. The result is a stiff, light, and responsive vehicle, entertaining to drive with enthusiasm. Kia has also mastered the art of electric steering tuning, as I had no reason to complain with respect to weighting, accuracy, or responsiveness.

If there is room for improvement here, Kia could use a blended regenerative braking system in this car in order to eliminate dissatisfying pedal feel and modulation. Both Chevrolet and Toyota have employed superior designs in the Volt and Prius.

Around town, where the Niro is best used for maximum effectiveness, it is easy to keep the car in EV driving mode at lower speeds or when coasting down from higher velocities. Had my driving route incorporated more city driving, I am certain my Niro Touring test vehicle would have come closer to achieving the EPA rating of 43 mpg in combined driving. Instead, the car averaged 38.5 mpg during a day heavy with highway driving.

Conclusion
Kia knows that there are people who want an affordable, attractive, and practical hybrid. The new 2017 Niro is built for them and for anyone who might be considering a compact sedan, hatch, wagon, or crossover SUV but loves the idea of effortlessly achieving superior fuel economy.

The Kia Niro might not be as large inside as a Prius, or as efficient, or as stylistically symbolic, but that’s OK. This Kia isn’t trying to be a better Prius. Its purpose is to be a better alternative to a Prius.


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